A gripping portrait of modern Tibet told through the lives of its people, from the bestselling author of Nothing to Envy
“A brilliantly reported and eye-opening work of narrative nonfiction.”—The New York Times Book Review
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Parul Sehgal, The New York Times • The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • NPR • The Economist • Outside • Foreign Affairs
Just as she did with North Korea, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick explores one of the most hidden corners of the world. She tells the story of a Tibetan town perched eleven thousand feet above sea level that is one of the most difficult places in all of China for foreigners to visit. Ngaba was one of the first places where the Tibetans and the Chinese Communists encountered one another. In the 1930s, Mao Zedong’s Red Army fled into the Tibetan plateau to escape their adversaries in the Chinese Civil War. By the time the soldiers reached Ngaba, they were so hungry that they looted monasteries and ate religious statues made of flour and butter—to Tibetans, it was as if they were eating the Buddha. Their experiences would make Ngaba one of the engines of Tibetan resistance for decades to come, culminating in shocking acts of self-immolation.
Eat the Buddha spans decades of modern Tibetan and Chinese history, as told through the private lives of Demick’s subjects, among them a princess whose family is wiped out during the Cultural Revolution, a young Tibetan nomad who becomes radicalized in the storied monastery of Kirti, an upwardly mobile entrepreneur who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a poet and intellectual who risks everything to voice his resistance, and a Tibetan schoolgirl forced to choose at an early age between her family and the elusive lure of Chinese money. All of them face the same dilemma: Do they resist the Chinese, or do they join them? Do they adhere to Buddhist teachings of compassion and nonviolence, or do they fight?
Illuminating a culture that has long been romanticized by Westerners as deeply spiritual and peaceful, Demick reveals what it is really like to be a Tibetan in the twenty-first century, trying to preserve one’s culture, faith, and language against the depredations of a seemingly unstoppable, technologically all-seeing superpower. Her depiction is nuanced, unvarnished, and at times shocking.
In this heartbreaking and doggedly reported account, journalist Demick (Nothing to Envy) views the tragic history of Tibet under Chinese rule through the stories of people with roots in Ngaba County, the site of the Mei kingdom in the remote reaches of Sichuan province. Demick recounts the region's first violent encounters with the Red Army during its Long March in the 1930s, when starving soldiers "ate the Buddha," devouring Tibetan votive offerings made of barley flour and butter as they fled Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces. Her survey of the Chinese Communist Party's grinding, decades-long repression of Tibetans also includes the odyssey of the daughter of the last ruler of the Mei kingdom, who fled the family's palace during the 1958 crackdown that eventually forced the Dalai Lama into exile in India; the harrowing story of an elderly market stall operator whose young niece was killed when Chinese troops fired on civilians in a 2008 demonstration; and sketches of monks and nuns who set themselves ablaze in protest of Chinese rule. "For the most part," Demick writes, "they were regular people who hoped to live normal, happy lives in China's Tibet without having to make impossible choices between their faith, family, and their country." Demick captures her subjects' trials and sacrifices with superb reporting and razor-sharp prose. This poignant history could do much to refocus attention on the situation in Tibet.
Eat the Buddha
Very enlightening book about the plight of the Tibetans living in Tibet with their government and spiritual leader in exile in India. Reminds me of how our own government treated the Native peoples of our own land.